MAALAEA, MAUI (HawaiiNewsNow) - The public is being asked to keep a lookout for a juvenile humpback whale off Maui that has large green polypropylene line wrapped around its tail flukes, so that a rescue team from the Hawaiian Islands Humpback Whale National Marine Sanctuary will be able to locate it and disentangle it.
Pacific Whale Foundation's vessel Ocean Discovery encountered the entangled whale on Monday, November 11 around 4 pm about 1 and 1/2 miles outside of Lahaina Harbor. The Pacific Whale Foundation vessel was returning from its 2 pm whalewatch cruise when it located the whale.
"We spotted a blow ahead of us, on the way to the harbor," relayed Pacific Whale Foundation senior vessel staff person Sierra Frye-Keele, "As we got closer, we noticed that the whale didn't seem to be lifting its fluke (tail) out of the water as it dove. We eventually realized that the tail area was entangled in a what appeared to be a large, green polypropylene line."
The captain and crew contacted Ed Lyman, Large Whale Entanglement Response Coordinator for the Hawaiian Islands Humpback Whale National Marine Sanctuary (Sanctuary) and waited with the whale for as long as possible. The Sanctuary coordinates the Hawaiian Islands Entanglement Response Network, a community-based network that works closely with NOAA Fisheries, Hawaii's Department of Land and Natural Resources, and the U.S. Coast Guard to safely respond to marine animals in distress.
Around 16:40 pm, the raft Great White agreed to stay with the whale, so that the Pacific Whale Foundation vessel could let its passengers disembark at Lahaina Harbor.
"Unfortunately the animal continued north toward a wind line, started doing longer dives and began traveling faster; along with the diminishing light, this made monitoring the animal very challenging. As a result the animal was lost sight of just prior to our arrival," reported Ed Lyman.
"Ocean Discovery and Great White did great monitoring the animal," he said. "Early on when the crew of Ocean Discovery was monitoring the animal it was traveling slowly with short dive intervals. Time, that wind line, and a change in the animal's behavior worked against us all."
"We have the word out, so hopefully we get a re-sight," he said.
Since its inception in 2002, the Hawaiian Islands Entanglement Response Network has successfully freed 17 whales of entangling gear and in the process, removed over 7,000 feet of line.
The importance of a trained network and quick response cannot be overstated when it comes to successfully freeing entangled whales.
"Smaller marine animals, like seals, dolphins and turtles, don't really have much of a chance once they become severely entangled, and quickly die," notes Lauren Campbell, Conservation Manager at Pacific Whale Foundation. "However large whales are strong enough that they can end up dragging gear for days and months, which gives response teams time to get out on the water and increases the chance that the individual can be saved," she explains.
Pacific Whale Foundation requires every captain and crewmember to attend the Be Whale Aware/Large Whale Entanglement Response training hosted by Pacific Whale Foundation and the NOAA Sanctuary each autumn. The training, free and open to all local boaters, industry professionals and vessel staff, reviews guidelines for responsible boating during whale season, as well as the role the community can play towards large whale entanglement response.
This year's training will be held in December at a date and time to be announced. All vessel operators are invited to attend this free program.
In addition, NOAA Sanctuary hosts a variety of training opportunities throughout the winter for those interested in joining the Hawaiian Islands Entanglement Response Network.
"The crew did everything right," praises Campbell. "By the time I got the notice, they had already called Ed Lyman of the NOAA Sanctuary and were waiting for backup assistance from two rafts who would keep eye on the individual until the disentanglement team arrived."
While Campbell warns the public never to attempt to disentangle a whale themselves, she does point out a number of ways that individuals can help reduce the threat of entanglement.
"First and foremost, do your part to help keep marine debris out of the ocean. Participate in a local beach cleanup, or organize one of your own. I also encourage choosing seafood from sustainable fisheries that have minimal by-catch and habitat impact," suggests Campbell.
If you see an entangled whale, immediately call the NOAA Fisheries Hotline at (888) 256-9840and collect as much information as you can about the individual (e.g. location, speed, direction traveling). Pictures and videos will also help properly authorized teams better assess the situation.